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Mumbai Diaries 26/11: Grief, Loss and Survival

Mumbai Diaries 26/11: Grief, Loss and Survival

Streaming on Amazon Prime, the original series offers a fresh take on the nightmarish event in the country’s history

Vani Parameswaran
By Vani Parameswaran16 September 2021
Film

Streaming on Amazon Prime, the original series offers a fresh take on the nightmarish event in the country’s history

Medical drama series seems to be the flavour of the season, rather for several seasons now. The emergency room is the new battlefield and with the past successes of Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs, House and the likes, it is only natural for Indian film makers to make use of the easel with a new canvas.

With eight episodes, Mumbai Diaries 26/11 streaming on Amazon Prime Video, co-directed by Nikkhil Advani and Nikhil Gonsalves, offers a relatively lean narrative that is stretched taut at times with the emotions running high and low as the story progresses. Though the drama is a fictionalised rendition of the terrorist attacks that shook the city of Mumbai and scarred the entire nation on 26 November 2008, the ground zero of the web series is a dilapidated government hospital in Mumbai. Each of the eight episodes are named using medical terms that indicate different stages from the “diagnosis” to the “recovery” of a city under siege, as experienced initially from a distance and then first-hand by a group of frontline healthcare workers. The air date, also close to the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 (2001), is also perhaps not lost on the viewer. 

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The series is a reminder of the collective effort of the healthcare professionals, who, even while retaining a functional chain of command, hold together a medical system that is systematically understaffed and stretched thin with respect to medical resources. However, the scene where the maverick trauma surgeon Dr Kaushik Oberoi (Mohit Raina) performs an emergency tracheostomy on a patient has none of the charm and swag found in similar scenes from the medical dramas in the West. Instead, his actions reveal a sense of helplessness and is frowned upon by his peers, seniors and the three newbie junior doctors who reluctantly assist him in the procedure. Satyajeet Dubey as Dr Ahaan Mirza, Natasha Bharadwaj as Dr Diya Parekh and Mrunmayee Deshpande as Dr Sujatha Ajawale convincingly portray the role of naïve and diffident junior doctors whose subjective responses to the trying events of the fateful night is deeply coloured by their life experiences.

The stark reality

Similar to the 2008 tragedy, the series, too, portrays the attack on a hotel alongside the other landmarks in the city. Dr Oberoi incidentally happens to be married to Ananya Ghosh (Tina Desai), who works at the Palace Hotel, another location targeted by the terrorists. The narrative alternates between the two locations – the hospital and the hotel — seamlessly without disrupting the pace and tone of the show. The strained relationship between Dr Oberoi and his wife and the tension between Dr Diya Parekh and her parents trapped at the hotel adds to the element of drama. Shreya Dhanwanthary of The Family Man-fame dons the role of Mansi Hirani, an ambitious and unscrupulous media journalist, who leaks vital inside information, unmindful of the consequences of her action. It is true that during the actual 26/11 attack, the media took some serious flak for broadcasting the operational details which ended up exacerbating the crisis to some extent.

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The interactions between characters, while taking the story forward also reveal the fragile moral fabric of our society. For instance, the conversations between characters such as Chitra Das, the Director of Social Services, played by Konkona Sen Sharma and the elderly patient Paramjeet Singh Kaur, played by Mohini Sharma, represent the uncomfortable realities of life and the country’s history through snippets from their past. The spat between inspector Mayank Bhat played by Akshar Kothari and Dr Sujatha Ajawale portrayed by Mrunmayee Deshpande is indicative of the deep-seated caste and gender discrimination in our society. Similar sentiments can be discerned from the heated argument between Das, a victim of domestic violence, and Dr Romani, played by Harssh Singh, who attacks her ad hominem when she questions his deliberate negligence of a patient’s diagnosis. Similarly, at the Palace Hotel, when Ghosh, a senior hotel employee offers her services bravely to get the guests to safety, one of them goes so far as to question her professional competence on the basis of her gender. 

The eclectic narrative

Though not consistent with the formulaic narrative pattern of a medical thriller, the creators of the show have gone out of their way to represent citizens from every walk of life. While it does add more shades and layers to the plot, it is also true that the effort does come across as forced and contrived on several occasions.

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Also, the need to address every possible concern in modern society from depression to class struggle has caused the story to make pointless diversions. There are some scenes that unfortunately stand out like a sore thumb, not blending in with the rest of the narrative owing to its excessive and unwarranted sentimental nature. The scene where Dr Oberoi is slapped by the wife of a slain police officer for allegedly prioritising the life of a terrorist over her husband and the bizarre emotional conversation between Das and one of the terrorists are cases in point.

Winning the battle

What is commendable about the show apart from the excellent writing and direction is the attention paid to several minute details that has managed to make it more credible and relatable. Right from the medical jargon that is effortlessly spewed by the doctors and nurses to the hospital fixtures and the building itself that is worse for wear, everything augments the believability factor. Showing a pair of nurses speaking in Malayalam to evade prying ears was an excellent touch.

With dark circles under their eyes, messy hair and stained and wrinkled clothes, the healthcare professionals have been portrayed as a bunch of warriors waging daily battles against diseases and a system constantly trying to bog them down under the weight of red tape. The privileges of a doctor working in the private sector becomes apparent simply from the attire of Dr Sahil Aggarwal, played by Mishal Raheja, that stands out against that of Dr Oberoi. On the day of the unprecedented attack, these limitations never come up as an excuse as they join hands in unison and work tirelessly to save lives even when their own are at stake.

Amidst the unceasing squeak of the stretchers bringing in injured patients, the sounds of the shots being fired, doctors shouting instructions and delegating responsibilities and the cries of the sick clamouring for attention, there are a few precious moments of deliberate pauses in the show that offers an opportunity for the characters and the viewers to let the magnitude of the frightening disruption to sink in. Mumbai Diaries 26/11 is a fresh take on a nightmarish event in the country’s history that will help the viewer appreciate the contributions of the frontline workers in white as much as the bravado of the law enforcement officers.

By Vani Parameswaran16 September 2021